For hundreds of years it was common for men and women to wear hats. Of course, this was largely due to the lack of adequate shelter when traveling, but hats, like all items of clothing, became subject to the fashions of the day as well. In the late 1800s, hat wearing was at its peak. The number of hat wearers in the United States declined slightly through the 1930s, then began to fall rapidly after World War II.
Today some men wear baseball caps and in certain parts of the US it’s not uncommon to see men in cowboy hats, but that’s usually because those people are, well, cowboys. Of course there is also the occasional Starbucks-hipster who can be seen wearing a cheap straw fedora, but those (thankfully) number fewer and fewer with each passing day.
But what if hats make a comeback? What if it becomes common to see a person walking down a city street with a fashionable, functional hat again? Would that be nice? I think so. Will it happen? I doubt it very seriously. But should it happen? Well, let’s think about this.
Where Did the Hats Go?
Believe it or not but there are actually a lot—a whole lot—of articles on the Internet about why hats are no longer fashionable. Each article I found had its own weird take on why hats aren’t really around anymore, but the three that were most often found were: 1) We spend more time in shelter today, so we do not need hats like we used to; 2) We are cleaner than we were even in the 1950s; and 3) Hair became the fashion.
More Shelter, Less Drip
I want to begin by being very clear that I 100% hate the fact that I, a 32-year-old grown man with a wife and mortgage, used the word “drip” in this context. Okay, now that that’s over with, let’s talk about shelter. Way back when, the only regular shelter a person had was a permanent structure like a building. This included homes, offices, government buildings, barns, outhouses, etc. But when traveling, shelter was lacking. Only the wealthy could afford train tickets or stagecoaches with hard roofs on them. Most other people traveled either on horseback or in wagons covered with flimsy canvas. This meant that most people needed to wear hats when they were traveling to keep them from the elements.
Even the first cars were mostly without roofs. In fact, some statistics suggest that it wasn’t until the late 1920s that most cars on the road in the US had roofs. Before then, a person driving a car needed to wear a hat to keep the dust, dirt, rain, snow, sleet, bird droppings, industrial ash, and whatever other dirty things might reasonably be expected to befall a person driving with the top down. However, once more people had cars, and once cars began adding shallow roofs that wouldn’t even allow a person to wear a hat while driving, the popularity of hats rapidly dwindled.
Perhaps the most surprising of the three main reasons hats died out is the hygiene of it. It turns out that washing one’s hair was, at best, a weekly occurrence until the 1950s. A week between hair washings, at best. Gross. This meant that it was extra important to keep gross crap out of one’s hair as much as possible. Solution? Hats! It turns out that covering your head prevents a bunch of icky stuff from ending up in your hair. Who knew?
Of course, that still wasn’t exactly hygienic. For one thing, even though wearing hats regularly is not a direct cause of hair loss, it can prevent your hair and scalp from getting important vitamins and minerals that only come with exposure to the sun. For another thing, if you’re constantly sweating into your hat, then wearing that hat every single day, that’s just gross. Dirty, gross hats can get dirty, gross bacteria on them than can get dirty, gross bacteria in your hair and you wind up with skin conditions on your scalp. Of course, with the advent of modern shampoo and more contemporary bathing habits, the need to keep stuff out of one’s hair diminished, and so did the need for hats.
The final reason most commonly attributed to the downfall of fashionable hats is that hair itself became the fashion. Beginning in the early 1960s, regular hair washing became a thing, and hair stylizers like Brylcreem, which allowed folks to style their hair and easily wash out, were on the rise. With the regular washings and myriad hair products, long hair became more fashionable in men, and men with longer hair began showing off their styles. Look at Elvis and the Beatles and everyone who came with and after them.
For the first time, really, men’s hair became part of the fashion. Sure, in the late 18th century, men would wear wigs as a fashion, but those were wigs, not the natural hair of the wearer. But in the late 1950s forward you began to see the Elvis haircut (sometimes known as a duck’s ass because of it’s shape), the mop op, and all sorts of other distinct men’s fashions. Hell, in about 20 years we went from weekly hair washings to David Lee Roth, and that wouldn’t have happened like that if hair remained just one more thing to keep clean rather than a part of one’s overall look.
The Case for a Comeback
So now you know more than you thought you did about why hats went out of style. But should they come back? I think so. Unlike the content above, I don’t have three distinct reasons for this belief. However, I think there are a few good ones worth discussing.
For one thing, everyone I’ve ever known has wished they could wear a hat at some point. I wear a lot of flat caps (pictured), which is the type of hat more commonly worn as everyday wear in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I also wear a more formal hat called the Stetson Open Road. But the point is, everyone I know has, at some point, either purchased a hat or talked themselves out of purchasing a hat. Here in Texas, it’s most common to see straw cowboy hats on farmers and people who go to outdoor events like concerts, football games, etc. For more formal occasions you’ll see felt cowboy hats. However, those are really more for colder weather so really you only see those in Texas if it’s some formal event like the cattlemen’s ball or the so-called “Cowboy Church” services. The people wearing those hats normally look natural in them, and if they can do it, you and I can do it, so why not do it?
For another thing, despite the diminishing popularity of hats, they have remained fashionable among different people and for different occasions. The entertainment industry in particular has been a continuing champion of hats. In the 1970s actors, actresses, and singers wore wide lapeled shirts with their leisure suits and wide-brimmed fedoras we might more colloquially call “pimp hats.” In the 1980s there was a brief resurgence of more formal hat types like the fedora, homburg, and the urban cowboy hat. The 1990s saw the biggest decline in the popularity of formal hats, which were replaced with bucket hats and boonie hats more than anything (and a swing and a miss with the urban sombrero). The 2000s came with those cheap plastic-pretending-to-be-straw fedoras people could buy at Target for $5.99. The 2010s had even more folksy hats with the resurgence of pop folk from bands like Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, and The Lumineers, plus the brief porkpie hat craze stemming from Breaking Bad’s depiction of Walter White.
But the 2020s? Jury’s still out, isn’t it. Well, kinda-sorta-but-not-really. I mean, I don’t see that many different hats walking down the street here in Dallas. Plenty of baseball caps and the occasional cowboy hat with a rare flat cap or other wide-brimmed hat sprinkled in, but for the most part it’s either no hat or a baseball cap. Of course what we really need is for influencers (and I mean that in the general way of people with a lot of power and exposure and not the stupid TikTok/Twitter “influencer” who tries to get famous for being famous) to start wearing hats again. And this will probably mean a resurgence of more formal day-to-day wear, too, but I think that would be okay.
People want to wear more hats. I can feel it. People want to wear more hats, but because it’s not particularly fashionable, they don’t. It’s a case of widespread, groupthink self-consciousness that is the ruin of the individual. But deep down plenty of men in this country want to look like that picture of Cary Grant just above. Maybe not the full suit on a daily basis because dry cleaning is expensive, but maybe a coat and oxford shirt with a nice hat of some sort? I can just feel it.
So let’s do it. Let’s start wearing hats. They’re great. They can be a nice, fashionable addition to whatever you’re wearing, plus they will keep the sun out of your face, dirt out of your hair, and they’ll keep your hair somewhat put together and out of the wind. And look, I know this is an uphill battle if ever there was one, but we should do it. What’s the worst that happens? Some dickheads that you don’t even know talk about you behind your back? Come on. We’re better than that. I don’t want to force the hat back on the fashion zeitgeist, but I do want to encourage people to wear a hat if they want to. Critics be damned!
Plus, if it’s good enough for Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for me.